Cutting the Cord: What about a DVR and Local?

This was one question that I really wasnt sure how I was going to answer or if I would find a good answer but then Plex Premium came to the rescue again.  One of the add ons for the premium version is the ability to stream live TV and act as a DVR.  All that was required was a compatible TV tuner.  I have not used a TV tuner on a computer since the early days of XBMC and quickly realized it wasnt worth my hassle, but this time was much easier although I did have one mistep along the way.  I started by looking to use a small USB based tuner, the Hauppague WinTV-DualHD. This is a fine device if you are running things on a Windows 7 system or something consumer level, but since i have my server running on Server 2012, I found out that the drivers were not compatible and I could never get the system to do anything but recognize the device.  It did that fine but then would not find any channels.  Keep in mind this is for over the air TV only and will not work well if you are too far away from the antennas.  That being said there are some very long range HD OTA antenna available today.  So since I could not get any stations, i returned that device.

The reviews on the Plex site spoke very highly of the SiliconDust HDHomeRun devices, but they were a bit more expensive.  I opted for the HDHomeRun Extend.  I could have probably gone with a lower end unit but with hardware transcoding and compression built in, I felt like I would get better use and efficiency.  I wasnt quite sure what to expect form this device since it has a power cord, an ethernet jack and a coax connection for an antenna.  I did the initial setup for it and it picked up an IP quickly and to my surprise, the Plex server saw it almost instantly over my LAN.  From there it was just setting a few configuration on the settings screen in Plex and I had a program guide and Recording schedule added to my manage screen.  The recording options are limited but gives you the basics you need.Once you get your shows selected it gives you a nice interface of what will be recorded, and they all go into a TV Show folder you have created.  You will also notice that I get CBS shows this way.  I dont have to miss out on any of the shows I enjoy just because they wont let me stream them with any of the services.

Overall the Plex DVR is incredibly easy to setup and about $150 more to get configured, I look at it that what I save every month, even with all my purchases it will take less than 6 months to get all my return.

Refresh your test and lab VMs without using snapshots

I am often building out machines that I want to change configurations on but would like a quick way to revert them back to an original state quickly.  I could do this with snapshots but often I dont want to mess with the snapshots getting large or forgetting I took a snapshot, this is where the “Independent disk” comes into play.  Cormac Hogan did a nice job summarizing an Independent disk on his blog but I found a slightly different example, his really focuses on the backup scenario.  Mine is in a lab and I dont care about the backups.  I want a lab system than no matter what a user does I can simply put it back to the way I set it up with little to no effort, possibly even for multiple machines with a script.  I want the user to be able to make changes however and even reboot the system from within the OS or using VMtools integrated reboots.  Heres how I did it…

Step 1.

Build the VM with all the virtual disk you would like and install an OS.  Keep the defaults as you add disks.  If you add additional disks before powering on, make sure they are at the default as shown below.

Screen Shot 2016-07-01 at 3.13.04 PM

Step 2.

Make any configuration changes you need within the core OS.  If you want things on secondary disks to be static when reset, make those changes now also.

Step 3.

Power Off the VM and Edit Settings.  You will now go to all the virtual disks and change the disks to “Independent – Nonpersistent”

Screen Shot 2016-07-01 at 3.16.34 PM

Step 4.

Power on the VM.

You can not make any changes you want to the VM, even allowing users to make changes involving multiple disks.  To reset the VM to the clean state that you built, simply go to vCenter and power cycle the VM.

Enjoy…

 

Note: If youhave any snapshots you can not change the disk style.  You will need to delete all snapshots and consolidate if you want to set this.

Keeping the Nest warm in the winter time

This one probably goes without saying but the Nest Thermostat was one of the easiest add ons for the home automation setup.  They manage to work with just about every system out there and it does exactly what it says.  That being said there are a few things to be aware of.  #1 if you have a rectangle standard thermostat you will probably want to order a surround or wall palte to use to cover up the screw holes, unless you plan to patch the walls anyway.  I went with this one http://www.amazon.com/Round-Wall-Plate-Nest-Greenfii/dp/B00T3TEPT6    Connecting it into our system did have a problem on switching what was heat and A/C  If this is the case call support.  They were fantastic and we determines that the back panel actually had one bad pin.  They sent me a new one within days and we had it all set up and working.

Nest

Since we have had it installed I have been asked once to reset it but they did that via email to let us know so they could do a firmware update.  Overall very easy and the ability to change the temperature from anyway has been great.  This is probably the one piece of electronics that I have added that my wife picked up on right away.

I can see clearly now.. Wink (ing) fully

IMG_0140With now my fifth hub that I have worked with I am now so far able to control almost everything (Waiting on you Sonos and Xfinity).  I picked up the Wink Hub from Home Depot for $49.99 (If it rings up at $69.99 check the shelf) which comparably is not bad at all since it does allow alot more functionality although you would think the much more expensive Relay would give you as much also.  That being said, so far I have been happy with the integration options on the Wink Hub.  As you can tell I have most things through the app now.  Cant do the alarm from XFinity or the Camera but those are integrated on their own app.

The biggest problem I had with the Wink Hub was getting it updated.  The app will continually tell you that you need an update until you are past version 0.89.  Interestingly they tell you to basically get it as far away from your wireless router or access points as possible.  The problem I have is I like to not have dead spots in my house so I have wifi that covers the house.  To get around it, I ended up setting up tethering from my iphone and then joining the Hub to my iphone and using my ipad to get it to update.  Once I did that I had no problem with it.

The integration with the Lutron lights did take a little work, although it might be easy if you do a fresh install.  If you had not done a fresh install you will have to remove each switch and Pico remote from the Lutron hub as well as reset the switch before you can join it to the Wink App.  Also you will not link the remotes specifically to the remotes via Lutron.  You will have to redo that in the Wink app.  It took a few minutes but overall not bad at all.

I also added a couple of the GE Link LED bulbs.  These needed the update as well but I have them set as a group so I can turn two of them on at the same time.  The one issue I have with these is that I have to leave the light switch in the on position all the time for the app to be able to manage them and since my wife is not fully set up, that means I will hardly use them via the app.

Another plus of the Wink Hub is that is is integrated with the Amazon Echo.  I had friends over and was able to say “Alexa turn on the living room lights at 50%” and the reaction from everyone was that it was pretty cool.  I would prefer if it was integrated with the Apple HomeKit like the Lutron Hub so I could use Siri from any room and not need to be in the vicinity of the Echo but I am also almost all Apple at this point so itsjust easier.  if you had Android or PC this would not work as well.

The next thing I added to the Wink App was the ability to run Robots.  These are essentially If This.. Then That for the Home Automation.  One example is that if I come home anytime after sundown but before midnight it will automatically turn on the entry lights for me.

IMG_0142IMG_0141

Maybe just Wink a little.. with the Relay

I have been admiring the look of the Wink Relay for quite sometime as I have been looking at home automation.  How great would it be to have a touchscreen on the wall that is convenient and be able to control everything without bringing out my phone but i didnt like the high cost of a unit that seemed to get mixed reviews.  I finally found one for a decent price on a trip to Home Depot and decided to give it a try.  The look of it is exactly what i expected, very slick as you can tell from the picture.

IMG_0138

I did have to try it in a couple places and had some install issues.  First off if you have a 3 or 4 way plug it wont work because you cant add a remote tot he buttons.  If you are using smart bulbs you are fine i would guess but i have lots of 3-way switches, in fact I think I only have 9 places in the house that are not 3-way.  Three of those are bathrooms so that seems weird, one is my guest bedroom that I dont really want a guest to have to try to figure it out, my office and then I have 3 spots for closet lights.  The next issue was the buttons wont work as dimmers so I cant put it anywhere that I want to be able to dim the light, that eliminates my office.  Since the option seemed to be one of the closet spots, luckily the master bedroom had a decent spot for it.  I installed it and right away had problems.  The push in connectors it comes with were never getting a good connection.  I ended up pulling them off and using normal electrical connectors that I had.  Once I did that I got good connection.

IMG_0139

Next came the issue with functionality, I was able to get the closet light working fine which by the way only uses the top button, if you replace a double switch you can use both but i just replaced a single.  You tap it on and off which is not a big deal.  I was able to tie it into my Nest without problem as well as my garage door.  It also shows the weather nicely and connected to the app without any problem. (Will show the app in the next step..)   The problem came when I tried to connect it to my Lutron dimmers that run the lights for the rest of the house.  This requires the Wink Hub also.  The Relay is pitched as a home automation hub on your wall but according to a reply tweet from @Wink it only has 1 antenna while the Hub has 6.  So began the search for Hub #5

Connected Garage-yes please

This one seemed like a no brainier although I am sure some would disagree.  The argument seems to be that why would you want your garage to be opened over the Internet? For me it was simple, I still needed a username and password and our garage is not connected to the house so it isn’t a home security concern. Also with the app and the xfinity integration I could have the door opening when on my motorcycle without having to stop and find the garage remote.


The setup was rather easy, add the MyQ Internet Gateway (it wants to be hardwired) and download the app.  Once downloaded you just tell it to discover and press a button the the wall panel. That’s it!  Then you can set alerts to tell you when it is open and even to close the door if it has been open for too long.  Overall this was is easy to recommend.

Hub #2 Lutron 

So this was the one that was really needed first.  We have some can lights that I wanted dimmers in and the only ones that worked with the Xfinity were the Lutron Caseta but for them to work you need the Lutron Caseta Wireless Smart Bridge. The nice part is you only need the basic bridge and not the Pro that I had heard many other alarm systems need. This is a nice small box that I was able to put out of the way and it does not need to be right beside your router. In fact it doesn’t even need a wired connection it just connects via Wifi to your network.  

This one also has its own app that you need to configure the lights on.  It is supposed to work with the Lutron blinds also but I haven’t added those yet.  

  
Adding lights and setting scenes is very easy and can be done either schedules or manual.  The ones listed I set manual. 

The downside so far to this was that it only works with the Lutron switches and no other Zigbee or Z-Wave devices, so now I am limited to only what they offer.  

Starting out hub (XfinityHome)

Picking a smarthome hub is probably the biggest choice you have to make since depending on the hub you choose you may or may not be able to use the gear you have or want.  My first hub choice had more to do with our home alarm than it did with tech.  We decided to go with the Xfinity Home alarm system since we already had it for Internet and TV the price was right and it offered a good selection of “Works with Xfinity” companies

  • Lutron Caseta
  • Chamberlain MyQ Garage
  • Nest
  • August Locks
  • More to come (they claim)

First off this seems like an easy option unfortunately these are some of the higher priced options out there and the only one I have seen that actually works out of the box is the Nest. I haven’t tried the August Locks yet (I am hesitant on the cloud connected clock).  If you want the Lutron switches or blinds to work you will need a Lutron Hub (more on this one later). If you are keeping count we are at hub #2. The Nest thermostat integrated perfectly and has been solid.  The same goes for the Chamberlain Garage door opener except for that to work you need what they call their MyQ Internet Gateway and you have to have a wall panel that has the MyQ logo. We will call that a hub also so we are up to 3. 

The best let of this one was that you don’t need anything extra from Comcast, they give you a “Control Panel”

Here’s a quick look at the app as well it is very easy to use. 

  

From dumb to smart(home)

Those of you who I have seen since we bought our new house are probably aware that I decided that I wanted to make the house as smart as possible. There are a ton of options out for home automation and only a few companies that can work with all the different parts. Since I have learned quite a bit and doubt I will ever really be done I figure I would write it up.

Let’s start by detailing all the parts as I have found them and then I will try to write up each part

  • Hub (Control Center)
  1. Xfinity
  2. Lutron
  3. MyQ
  4. Wink Relay
  5. Wink Hub
  • Thermostat – Nest Take one
    • Upgrade Thermostat – EcoBee
  • In wall switches/dimmers
  • In wall outlets
    • Quirky Outlink
  • Voice activation
    • Siri
    • Amazon Echo
  • Audio
  • Garage Door
  • Blinds

I am sure more pieces will come up so I will plan to update this post as I get into them.

The accounts of a few and guidance to many…

Every once in a while there is a day that brings together people that are from down the street, across the country and around the world with an attempt to make the world a slightly better place.  While this sounds like quite the audacious goal, The Reckoning aims to:

Do Work That Matters 
Beyond Technologist: Communicator, Businessperson
Be a Creator, Not An Operator
I have been lucky enough to be in attendance to represent Nexenta but also my history and background.  Kicking off the day with an unconference that was hosted by Cody Bunch and Alastair Cooke of vBrownbag we started with a generic list of topics that those in attendance thought were important to the community, the tech sector and hopefully others that could not attend.  I have done these before and the ideas tend not to get to flow past the group in attendance, and since the first break out, I volunteered to lead it seems only write to pass on some of the insight from those that may have been there, might want to go there or those that are just guessing but either way they are nuggets of knowledge.
Breakout #1: Making the transition from hands on tech to a business person
After a little history of everyone in the group a few main topics really jumped out, first off what does being a business person mean?  We came up with a few things but overall it is a multi-faceted role where you may manage people, you may be leading a technology or you may be selling technology.  The business role could me one or any of these and we had some random comments throughout:
  • Help to build things that remove blockers for others – it shouldnt always be about you getting ahead
  • It doesnt have to be just about making more money
  • Move to what comes from the heart
  • Actively pursue happiness or as Amy Lewis mentioned “I can’t work if I’m not happy”
  • Be the one to make the decision

As we tried to wrap up the first breakout we have a few pieces of advice to pass along in no particular order.

  1. Don’t worry about your title and role – Do the job you want to do
  2. Perception Management is key – Don’t hide your second job, that extra you do that may not get noticed
  3. If you are making your job up and your company doesnt agree, maybe that means you are at the wrong company
  4. Find something you resonate with – Follow your internal GPS
  5. Be comfortable in your lifestyle, it might not be about the paycheck but make sure you are happy
Breakout #2: Crossing the skills gap from one vendor to many

Again this one required a little bit of clarification, many of the people here had their careers revolve around VMware but how do you make sure you are not just “The VMware Guy”?  The first thing discussed was from Cody Bunch pointing out that when he mentors others he asks them to write down all the things they do in a week.  He doesn’t need to read the list but the mentee needs to recognize all the things they do.  Another version of this was to come up with a skill set pie chart.  Maybe you spend 80% of your day working on VMware, but then you spend 5% learning about DevOps and 10% of your day in project management (we all know 5% of your day is wasted at a minimum)  Now determine which of those secondary skills you want to get better at.  What will make you happy?  You have to remember that it is a choice of sacrifice, meaning what will drop, why would you drop it and are you ok if something doesnt get developed?  As you try to develop a skill though you have to remember that if you hit a wall, that doesnt always mean give up but there are times when you should potentially look elsewhere to find what you can excel at.  Are you not sure what those secondary skills are?  Ask your peers, interview for roles not exactly like yours, you will find out what your brand is and quickly learn what those secondary skill sets are.

All of this find a second things to do and the sacrifice does come at a cost, but as with every financial advisor that says pay yourself first, the same goes for your career, also if you are looking for a good financial advisor, check Metric seis tax relief.  Make an investment in the company of YOU.  While you may work 60 hours a week at your primary job, dont expect that every company sees that when they make financial decisions, often times you may be 2 or 3 or more layers removed from those looking at the balance sheet.  Those people simply see numbers and while it is always good to get visibility with them, it is not always possible and you should be prepared for what your future might hold.  That being said always make sure to balance your skill set between what is good for you and what is good for your employer.  Dont take this to mean that you should just do your own thing, but remember to stretch your comfort level and find that next thing for you, or you too will go the way of the mainframe and punchcards.

The first day at The Reckoning sure was insightful and continues with some great speakers and a group talk led by The Geek Whisperers, looking forward to seeing what day 2 holds…